Henri Cole Middle Earth: Poems

ISBN 13: 9780374208813

Middle Earth: Poems

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9780374208813: Middle Earth: Poems
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The fullest culmination to date of an original voice and “a central poet of his generation” (Harold Bloom)

Time was plunging forward,
like dolphins scissoring open water or like me,
following Jenny’s flippers down to see the coral reef,
where the color of sand, sea and sky merged,
and it was as if that was all God wanted:
not a wife, a house or a position,
but a self, like a needle, pushing in a vein.
—from “Olympia”

In his fifth collection of verse, Henri Cole’s melodious lines are written in an open style that is both erotic and visionary. Few poets so thrillingly portray the physical world, or man’s creaturely self, or the cycling strain of desire and self-reproach. Few poets so movingly evoke the human quest of “a man alone,” trying “to say something true that has body, / because it is proof of his existence.” Middle Earth is a revelatory collection, the finest work yet from an author of poems that are “marvels—unbuttoned, riveting, dramatic—burned into being” (Tina Barr, Boston Review).

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About the Author:

Henri Cole was born in Fukuoka, Japan, and was raised in Virginia. The recipient of many awards, he is the author of four previous books of poems, most recently The Look of Things (1995) and The Visible Man (1998). He is poet-in-residence at Smith College.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

SELF-PORTRAIT 

IN A GOLD KIMONO 

Born, I was born.
  Tears represent how much my mother loves me,
  shivering and steaming like a horse in rain.
My heart as innocent as Buddha's,
  my name a Parisian bandleader's,
  I am trying to stand.
  Father is holding me and blowing in my ear,
  like a glassblower on a flame.
Stars on his blue serge uniform flaunt a feeling
  of formal precision and stoicism.
  Growing, I am growing now,
  as straight as red pines in the low mountains.
  Please don't leave, Grandmother Pearl.
  I become distressed
watching the President's caisson.
  We, we together move to the big house.
  Shining, the sun is shining on my time line.
  Tears, copper-hot tears,
  spatter the house
  when Father is drunk, irate and boisterous.
  The essence of self emerges
  shuttling between parents.
  Noel, the wet nimbus of Noel's tongue
  draws me out of the pit.
I drop acid with Rita.
Chez Woo eros is released.
  I eat sugar like a canary from a grown man's tongue.
  The draft-card torn up;
  the war lost.
I cling like a cicada to the latticework of memory.
  Mother: "I have memories, too.
Don't let me forget them."
Father. "I'm glad the journey is set.
I'm glad I'm going."
Crows, the voices of crows
leaving their nests at dawn, circle around,
as I sit in a gold kimono,
feeling the subterranean magma flows,
the sultry air, the hand holding a pen,
bending to write,
Thank you,
Mother and Father, for creating me.

ICARUS BREATHING 

Indestructible seabirds, black and white, leading and following;
semivisible mist, undulating, worming about the head;
  rain starring the sea, tearing all over me;
  our little boat, as in a Hokusai print, nudging closer
  to Icarus (a humpback whale, not a foolish dead boy)
  heaving against rough water; a voluminous inward grinding --
  like a self breathing, but not a self -- revivifying,
  oxygenating the blood, making the blowhole move,
  like a mouth silent against the decrees of fate: joy, grief,
  desperation, triumph. Only God can obstruct them.
  A big wave makes my feet slither. I feel like a baby,
  bodiless and strange: a man is nothing if he is not changing.
  Father, is that you breathing? Forgiveness is anathema to me.
  I apologize. Knock me to the floor. Take me with you.   THE HARE

The hare does not belong to the rodents;
he is a species apart. Holding him firmly
  against my chest, kissing his long white ears,
  tasting earth on his fur and breath,
  I am plunged into that white sustenance again,
  where a long, fathomless calm emerges --
  like a love that is futureless but binding
  for a body on a gurney submerged in bright light,
  as an orchard is submerged in lava --
  while the hand of my brother, my companion
  in nothingness, strokes our father,
but no power in the air touches us,
as one touches those one loves, as I
stroke a hare trembling in a box of straw.

POWDERED MILK 

Come to the garden, you said,
and I went, hearing my voice inside
your throat. It was a way of self-forgetting.
Or it was a way of facing self,
I did not know.

You drank scotch whiskey
and mixed me powdered milk,
as if I were still your boy.
Dogs tussled on the lawn around
Michelangelo's David, kept like a shrine;
big ordinary goldfish
chewed through the pond;
and the speech of bees encircled us,
falling a void.

Copyright © 2003 Henri Cole

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